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Why This Expert Thinks the Student Loan Tax Bomb Probably Won’t Happen

The clear trend shows that the student loan tax bomb probably won’t happen for the borrowers on IDR Plans like IBR, PAYE, and SAVE

Written By: Michael P. Lux, Esq.

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I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t think the student loan tax bomb is going to happen. The borrowers who earn forgiveness on an IDR plan probably won’t face the much-feared tax bill.

Obviously, I’m not 100% certain about this prediction, but things are definitely trending in the right direction for borrowers.

I’m putting my track record of accurate student loan predictions on the line and saying that the tax bomb won’t become a reality.

Why a Huge Student Loan Tax Bill is Unlikely for ICR, IBR, PAYE, and SAVE Borrowers

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed a law containing a provision that eliminates the tax on forgiven student debt until 2026. For the borrowers who will earn Income-Driven Forgiveness in the next few years, there is nothing to predict — there will be no tax bomb.

Unfortunately, most borrowers currently on the IDR plans will not qualify for forgiveness by the December 31st, 2025, expiration. One noteworthy aspect of the recently passed provision is that it eliminates the tax from the first borrowers earning forgiveness.

Additionally, this isn’t the first time Congress eliminated a tax on student loan forgiveness or cancellation. A couple of years ago, Congress removed the harsh tax on student loans forgiven due to death or disability discharge. Like the recent legislation, the provision ends December 31st, 2025.

The message from Congress is clear: student loan borrowers who have their debt discharged should not pay tax on the forgiveness.

Supporting the Student Loan Tax Bomb Would Be Dumb Politically

Stepping back from what the rules should be or what is fair, let’s look at the politics.

Calling for a huge tax bill for someone who spent at least 20 years making student loan payments looks bad. Democrats have strongly advocated for student loan cancellation and further help for borrowers. Republicans have built their brand on tax opposition.

When this issue comes up for debate again, eliminating the tax should get bipartisan support. Democrats need to stick up for student loan borrowers to get elected. Republicans need to oppose tax increases to get elected. Preventing a tax increase on student loan borrowers should be an easy sale.

Even though there is a huge debate about student loan cancellation, there hasn’t been a debate on these tax issues. Most advocates and experts argue that the tax bomb is a bad policy, and there has been little opposition.

Taxing Forgiveness is Bad Policy in this Case

The general rule of the IRS on taxing forgiven debt makes sense. Suppose my employer loans me $1,000. When you borrow money, there is no tax paid by the lender or the borrower. Instead of giving me a raise or a bonus, my employer cancels my debt. You can see how easy it would be to use a strategy like this to avoid taxes if there wasn’t a rule taxing canceled debt.

Applying this rule to student loan forgiveness and cancellation doesn’t make sense. If I qualify for IDR forgiveness, it is because I’ve been on an income-driven repayment plan for 20 years. I’ve made 20 years’ worth of payments, and I’ve paid interest on the debt. Presumably, I’ve been on this plan because I can’t afford to pay off my student loans under the standard 10-year plan. In this situation, student debt has been a financial hardship, and I’ve gone to great lengths to do what I can to make payments.

A huge tax bill in that situation is wrong. For starters, many borrowers who face the tax bomb probably can’t afford the bill. Secondly, it isn’t forgiving the debt if you are just turning it into an IRS bill.

My Big Hesitation in Predicting the Elimination of the Student Loan Tax Bomb

For years, when I discussed student loan issues, I only made suggestions based upon the current status of the law. This approach was safe and it was easier.

However, my inbox was full of emails from readers asking about what might happen and how to plan for various possibilities. It is smart to plan for various contingencies, and to the extent I can offer insight on a topic, I try to do so.

In the case of the student loan tax bomb, I still think borrowers should prepare as though it will happen. As a student loan borrower myself, I’m making preparations for a huge tax bill. My plan incorporates the fact that I think I probably won’t face this bill. Even though I don’t expect the tax to happen, I’m not going to bet on Congress doing the right thing or the smart thing. I have a backup plan in place, and I think every borrower should do the same.

Please don’t assume Congress won’t tax forgiveness. Get ready for a tax bill, and when Congress eliminates the tax, enjoy the fruits of your labor.

About the Author

Student loan expert Michael Lux is a licensed attorney and the founder of The Student Loan Sherpa. He has helped borrowers navigate life with student debt since 2013.

Insight from Michael has been featured in US News & World Report, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other online and print publications.

Michael is available for speaking engagements and to respond to press inquiries.

2 thoughts on “Why This Expert Thinks the Student Loan Tax Bomb Probably Won’t Happen”

  1. Excellent article as always! There are already two bills (that I know of), although currently just languishing in committee hell. S.496 ( https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/496/text ) and HR 1564 ( https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1564 ) to name a couple. Both bills are more than a couple of years old, and the HR bill hasn’t even been sent to any committee yet.

    I don’t know how the age of these bills affects their viability, I’m sure a bill takes a long time to make it’s way through both branches of congress and is rewritten many times. I think 2026 might be too soon to hope, especially with an election year coming up. I would also be amazed if their was enough bipartisan-ship to pass any such bill, the 2025 one only passed because of COVID.

    Another good topic for you to address is insolvency or partial insolvency that the IRS allows, that might soften the blow for some.

    As someone in this same exact situation I’ll definitely keep my fingers crossed!

    • Thank you for the kind words and thoughtful comments!

      I think you are right about both of those bills dying in committee. Throughout the year, there are a lot of student loan related bills that never make it out of committee. I tend not to cover these items because I don’t want to unnecessarily got borrowers’ hopes up or unnecessarily anger people. If one of these bills gets traction, I’ll add it to the article.

      As for the insolvency issue, you are absolutely right. In some cases, it could make a huge difference. Hopefully, it never reaches that point. That said, I think it would be a mistake for borrowers to assume that they will be insolvent a decade into the future. I still think planning ahead for a tax bill is the best approach until the tax bomb officially gets eliminated.


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